Ways to lower your blood pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is called the “silent killer” for good reason. Although you may not feel any symptoms, it is a major risk for coronary heart disease and stroke.
Your blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury, which is abbreviated as mm Hg. There are two numbers in the measurement:

  • Systolic blood pressure. This number is the “top” number and represents the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats.
  • Diastolic blood pressure. This number is the “bottom” number and represents the pressure in your blood vessels between beats, when your heart is resting.

Your blood pressure is dependent on how much blood your heart is pumping, and how much resistance there is to blood flow in your arteries. When your arteries are narrowed (high cholesterol), your blood pressure increases to keep the blood flowing.

The FMCSA allows for a blood pressure of equal to or less than 140/90, but new ACC/AHA guidelines have changed. Blood pressure categories in the new guideline are:

  • Normal: Less than 120/80 mm Hg;
  • Elevated: Systolic between 120-129 and diastolic less than 80;
  • Stage 1: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89;
  • Stage 2: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90 mm Hg;

Before considering medication, these lifestyle changes can significantly reduce your blood pressure and lower your risk:

1. Exercise

As you regularly increase your heart and breathing rates, over time your heart gets stronger and pumps with less effort. This puts less pressure on your arteries and lowers your blood pressure.

Anywhere from 30-60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous exercise can greatly help reduce your blood pressure. You don’t have to compete in a triathlon, you can do simple things like parking at the back of the lot and walking longer to the store, use the stairs instead of the elevator, gardening, walking, yoga, or joining a gym.  You can also walk a few laps around your commercial vehicle while it is fueling up or you are on a short break.  Whatever you choose to do, be sure to do it consistently.

2. Lose weight

If you’re overweight, losing 5 to 10 pounds can reduce your blood pressure and lower your risk for other medical problems.

If you need some suggestions on how to lose weight, your primary care physician will be able to help you. The internet is also a great source of information, but be sure to discuss extreme dietary changes with your doctor to be sure it is safe for you.

3. Eat less sugar and refined carbohydrates

Many scientific studies show that following a low sugar and low carb diet can help you lose weight and lower your blood pressure.

Another side effect of a low-carb, low-sugar diet is that you feel fuller longer, because you’re consuming more protein and fats.

If you are on the road a lot, try to choose healthier options. Many grocery stores have a deli with salads, soups, wraps, fruits, and other non-fast food items. Grab a package of hummus and veggies for a filling snack.  Instead of sodas, energy drinks, and other sugar-filled options, grab an unsweetened tea or sparkling water. Be wary of artificial sweeteners, as they can cause you to crave more sugar and can negatively affect your health.

4. Lower sodium and increase potassium

Potassium lessens the effects of salt in your system and reduces tension in your blood vessels. However, diets rich in potassium may be harmful to some individuals with kidney issues, so talk to your doctor before increasing your potassium.

Potassium-rich foods include low-fat dairy (yogurt), fish, bananas, apricots, avocados, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens.

The DASH diet was created specifically to reduce hypertension. A quick search on the web will provide you with more information, but the basics are including low-sodium foods, fruits, veggies, low-fat dairy, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, and decreasing sweets and red meats.

5. Eating less processed and fast food

Most of the extra salt in your diet comes from these food items. Some items you may not realize have high sodium include deli meat, canned soup, pizza, chips, and “low-fat” items (to compensate for taste, more salt is added).

Cutting down on processed food will help you eat less salt, less sugar, and fewer refined carbohydrates. All of this can result in lower blood pressure.

6. Quit smoking

Quitting smoking is good for your all-around health. Smoking causes an immediate but temporary increase in your blood pressure and an increase in your heart rate.

In the long term, the chemicals in tobacco can increase your blood pressure by damaging your blood vessel walls, causing inflammation, and narrowing your arteries. The hardened arteries cause higher blood pressure. This can happen even when you are around secondhand smoke.

7. Reduce excess stress

Driving a CMV can be stressful. Long hours, road vibration and sounds, traffic, as well as an overall sedentary job and few options for healthy eating.

In your spare time, find ways to relieve stress. Bring a book to read while on breaks, go for a walk, practice deep breathing while in traffic, listen to music, and watch comedy shows. On your days off, consider a massage, acupuncture, or chiropractic care to help lower stress.

8. Eat dark chocolate

This does not include your typical gas station or truck stop Hershey bar: go for a bar of 60-70% cacao, preferably organic. Most supermarkets carry chocolate with these specifications.  Only eat one or two squares per day to help lower risk of heart disease. There are beneficial compounds in dark chocolate that help to reduce inflammation in your body and blood vessels.

9. Herbs and Supplements

Herbs and other supplements have long been used in many cultures to treat a variety of ailments.  Always check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking herbal supplements, as they may interfere with your prescription medications.

A few examples of some supplements and herbs to help with blood pressure include fish oil, krill oil, whey protein, magnesium, CoQ10 (Ubiquinol), citrulline, ginger root, garlic, sesame oil, tomato extract, green tea, umbrella tree bark, and many others.

10. Sleep

Bad sleep can affect your blood pressure. CMV drivers are at a high risk for sleep issues due to long hours at work, stress, too much caffeine, and hotel beds.

If you have issues sleeping, try to get more exercise during the day, even if it is simply walking around your vehicle a few times every time you stop.  Limiting coffee or energy drink intake can also help you sleep at night.

11. Eat healthy high-protein foods

As long as your doctor recommends it and you don’t have any kidney function issues, a high protein diet can help to lower your blood pressure.
It’s fairly easy to consume 100 grams of protein daily on most types of diets. Some options include fish (canned salmon or tuna is ok, but watch out for sodium), eggs, chicken, beef, beans, legumes, nuts, chickpeas, and cheeses.

If you prefer a vegetarian diet, stick with beans, legumes, and nut options.

12. Quit or drink less alcohol

Even if you are healthy, drinking alcohol can raise your blood pressure, even if you’re healthy.  If your blood pressure is higher than 140/90, consider quitting drinking.  Your health is more important. If you cannot quit, consider drinking in moderation. That means one 12oz beer, 5oz of wine, OR 1.5oz of a distilled liquor per day.

13. Consider cutting back on caffeine

Caffeine raises your blood pressure, especially if it is already high.  Drinking multiple cups of coffee, energy drinks, or other energy “boosters” every day can put you at risk for other health issues.

14. Prescription medication

Sometimes you can eat perfectly and exercise often and still have high blood pressure. If that is the case, please see your primary care physician to discuss if blood pressure medication is right for you. Taking a medication for blood pressure will improve your long-term outcome, especially if you have other health issues or risk factors.